steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

A Garden of Weedens

Ooh, I so want this copy of Dr Dodd's Thoughts in Prison (3rd ed., 1789). It's the copy that belonged to my great*4 grandfather Weeden Butler, and it appears to have been passed down for a while through the eldest sons - not just Weeden's son Weeden (my great*3 grandfather) but his son Weeden and his children (of whom Gerard Weeden Butler, who's written in the book in pencil, was one). I've never mentioned the third Weeden here, I think, mainly because I really don't know much about him except that he became a vicar in Wickham Market, Suffolk. Nor do I know when this book left the family's possession, but I suspect it was in the 1980s, after the death of Gerard's son Richard Weeden (an eye surgeon): I've seen a couple of books with his name plate floating around.

Anyway, back to the book. It's a lengthy poem, written by the fashionable, profligate, and (as it turned out) doomed preacher, Dr William Dodd,* after his conviction in a sensational trial for forging the Earl of Chesterfield's signature on a bond. Despite a public campaign for mercy in which Samuel Johnson played a prominent part, Dodd was publicly hanged at Tyburn in 1777.

In some ways, Dodd's downfall was the catalyst for the first Weeden's rise. Weeden had been Dodd's amanuensis since 1764, and amongst many other tasks revised the rough copy and corrected the proofs of Thoughts in Prison. There he would have found the following anguished eulogy to himself:

But I am lost! A criminal adjudged!
A guilty miscreant! Canst thou think, my friend,
Oh Butler,--'midst a million faithful found,
Oh canst thou think, who knowst, who long has known
My inmost soul, etc etc.

Be that as it may, Weeden was well placed to take over some of the more lucrative aspects of Dodd's professional work. For example, Dodd had been morning preacher at the fashionable Charlotte St Chapel in Pimlico (where the eponymous queen rented four capacious pews until her death in 1818), with Weeden serving as his reader. On Dodd's fall, Weeden was swiftly preferred to the position, which he eked out with various other posts. And it was, I assume, in part on the proceeds that he was able to found the school at 6 Cheyne Walk some nine years later, where the family would be based for another two generations.

As so often, success seems to have been a matter of being in the wrong place at the right time. (Or is it the other way round?)

* Unless it was in fact written by Samuel Johnson? Boswell has Johnson complaining after Dodd's death that the disgraced cleric never acknowledged his part in composing his prison poem. But then, what do you expect from a forger?
Tags: family history
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